Archives For conspiracy theories

brainwashed humanoids

Back in the day, we covered the fear of cell phones and wi-fi promoted by people who are very, very confident that whatever electromagnetic waves they put out must cause cancer, or a host of other really, really nasty problems. But it’s not only the alt health crowd that’s terrified of cell phone technology and its emissions, there are numerous conspiracy theories centered around them and how seemingly benign cell signals are used for mind control or subliminal intelligence gathering. One recent theory alleges that cell towers in Tampa have been hijacked by a sinister group of DARPA operatives with a mission to do something very vague and scary to Floridians, according to a whistleblower who might have once worked for them, as these theories so often seem to go. What the sinister plan is exactly, he doesn’t know, but he cites mind control as an important component, claiming that the cell towers broadcast at a frequency that resonates at the same range as the human mind. Now, this is far from the only such theory floating around the conspiracy internet, but it’s such a textbook example that if we’re going to fact check one, it might as well be our model. And right out of the gate, it’s off to a really, really bad start…

Virtually everything presented to convince us of DARPA’s nefarious plot rests on e-mails from a whistleblower named Paul Batcho, who at some point held the DOE’s equivalent of a top secret clearance and worked at Los Alamos. Nothing bizarre or suspicious in that. More than a million people hold some sort of security clearance nowadays so it really isn’t much of a stretch to see Princeton alums with PhDs in computer science working for the government and having a high level security clearance. In fact, it often happens to comp sci people who come from top notch colleges since they do research funded by government agencies that can often deal with secret information related to weapons, intelligence, and infrastructure. What was suspicious, however, is seeing bizarre, disjointed ramblings in the quoted e-mails making claims that even a cursory Google search would quickly flag as ridiculous. For example, to give the notion that cell towers are broadcasting telepathic or mind-altering waves a patina of plausibility, the theory says that human thoughts resonate at 450 MHz and that’s the secret reason why there’s an FCC ban on radio stations broadcasting in the 400 MHz to 700 MHz frequency range.

To borrow from a commercial, that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works. First off, the most active human brain waves peak at 40 Hz, which is 10,000 times slower than their supposed resonance frequency. Secondly, resonating with these brain waves has no effect on humans because they are artifacts of electro-chemical reactions in our brains. To disrupt them requires direct magnetic and electrical stimulation that’s precisely targeted to the area you want to affect. You can’t just broadcast signals willy-nilly and expect there to be a major effect on the population to which you’re broadcasting. That may ahve worked in The Kingsmen, but in reality the best you’ll do is maybe give someone hypersensitive a very mild headache. Maybe. Finally, it’s true that radio stations aren’t allowed to broadcast in the 400 MHz to 700 MHz range by the FCC. Want to know who are? Astronomers, satellites, and aircraft navigation stations. Wouldn’t airplanes flying overhead and radio astronomy dishes mess with our minds and be called out in the cited e-mails? And why would this frequency band be considered in Europe for public safety organizations? Seriously, who is this alarmingly ignorant whistleblower anyway?

And that brings us to Dr. Paul Batcho. Did you notice that I really tried to avoid attributing any of this conspiracy theory claims directly to him? That’s because after a few minutes of digging, it’s pretty apparent that a man named Paul Batcho exists, that he has a doctorate in comp sci from a respected, prestigious institution, and he does mathematical research. But he’s not a scientist affiliated with DARPA and he didn’t work for the DOE in Los Alamos. Instead, he’s a trader who designs high performance trading software as an SVP at Citi. His only link to this whole thing is that he lives in Tampa, so what I’ve seen leads me to believe that someone is using his identity to advance his or her own conspiracy theory under the guise of a supposed whistleblower who looks like he fits the bill. After all, he seems like a fairly typical middle aged guy you can picture working in a nondescript office with computers, and he has a background in computer science you can legitimately highlight. But since he’s presenting papers on how to build a better trading algorithm, and his LinkedIn profile strangely omits a clearance that would be a big asset on his resume, or any DOD work — done with a DOE clearance for some reason — which is also a big plus to most employers, his DARPA whistleblower status seems highly, highly doubtful.

So let’s recap. We have a theory which claims that cell towers are trying to control the minds of Floridians, ripping off many comics and books for their main story, uses a buzzword salad that doesn’t get a single thing about the human brain right, and is based on a claim just one minute of searching shows to be completely wrong. On top of that, the supposed source appears to be a person in no way affiliated with this theory, working as a high profile technical expert in whose industry random, misplaced, rambling emails accusing the government of brainwashing people or reading their minds using the same frequency as radio telescopes and airplanes would be a huge image problem, and who should know how to anonymously leak very important classified information considering that many with lesser skill sets have done the same thing. Notice how a real whistleblower with explosive revelations like Snowden leaked top secret documents. He set up encrypted channels to contact serious reporters, not sent screeds addressed to entities that he held responsible for evil doings to random websites. So if you live or work in or near Tampa, don’t worry. Your cell phone and local towers aren’t out to take over your brain. But do a search for your name once in a while. You never know who may be using it or why…

[ illustration by Lun-acy ]

frosted illuminati

If you haven’t already read Anna Merlan’s longform account of the Conspira Sea cruise, really, do yourself a favor and check it out. Like all reporters interested in off-beat stories, she jumped at the chance to see what conspiracy theorists talk about when their primary audience is other theorists, and voluntarily trapped herself aboard a yacht with them. Aside from witnessing how popular anti-vax activists have become on the conspiracy circuit and documenting the sliminess of self-pitying wannabe-martyr Andrew Wakefield, Merlan highlighted some interesting common themes about the cruise’s participants and presenters. One would expect the whole affair to be an almost church-like experience where conspiracy theorists can indulge in their favorite hobby horses without being bothered by skeptics, but as it so turns out, it’s not the case at all. In fact, the entire cruise appears to be an excuse to present days worth of what are basically just thinly veiled infomercials for documentaries, books, supplements, and judicially suicidal financial and legal advice for would-be sovereign citizens trying to get out of debt or trouble in the courts.

Aside from the amount of time devoted to anti-vaxers swearing that autism comes from needles when we have ample proof that it’s actually genetic, repeating the same old, debunked canards they’ve been chanting for years, and comparing requirements to get vaccinated to the eugenics programs of Nazi Germany, despite studies funded and designed by them finding no evidence for their own claims, what really surprised me in Merlan’s account is just how much legal, fiscal, and radical libertarian New World Order-related crackpottery dominated the discussions. Much of the advice people received from self-proclaimed experts has been massacred by the courts over countless cases as legal-sounding nonsense, and self-issued “bonds” used to pay a hefty fine for tax evasion only make the IRS and the SEC livid, something Merlan goes to very great lengths to point out for readers who may be curious about their odds of declaring themselves a citizen exempt from U.S. law. Yet on the Conspira Sea cruise, plenty of attendees seem happy, ready, and willing to buy into the libertarian version of the Prosperity Gospel to erase their debt and tap into mysterious shadow money the government has in their name from their birth.

So if you’re interested in attending a conspiracy cruise, it seems that you’ll get a few of the hits and classics with which you’re familiar in small portions, but mostly, you’re going to be pitched quack supplements made who-knows-where by who-knows-who, and given not-quite-legal tips and tricks to beating the U.S. government by an “attorney in law,” which you’re right, isn’t a real thing that exists in the legal profession, and will get you arrested, with an IRS lien against every asset you own, or both. And considering that you’re paying once to attend and then again to be scammed by a presenter who just might accost you for being an unwitting CIA plant if you show too much doubt for his or her liking, it’s kind of like a chicken paying a fox to eat it. In a way, it’s actually worse than I thought. If people gathered to kibitz about which sub-species of gray alien or tame cryptid really shot JFK or brought down the World Trade Center in international waters, then so be it. But people are getting financially and legally ruinous advice along with potentially dangerous pills, potions, and lotions. It’s one thing to be open-minded, it’s something very, very different to be so open-minded anyone can play with your mind for their selfish gain…

eye of providence scroll

For as long as there have been conspiracy theories, there have been explanations for why the vast community of people who hang on conspiracy theorists’ every word exist. Some might just be paranoid in general. Others may be exercising their hatred or suspicion of a particular group of people, be they an ethnic group or a political affiliation. Others might just want to sound as if they’re smarter and more incisive than everyone else. Others still seek money and attention in their pursuit of a stable career of preaching to the tinfoil choir. But that doesn’t answer the really big question about the constant popularity of conspiracy theories throughout the ages. Is there something specific about how the believers are wired that makes the more prone to believe? Is ascribing to 9/11 Trutherism, or fearing Agenda 21, or looking for alien ancestry in one’s blood actually a case of a brain generally seeing patterns in randomness and conspiracy theories are just an outlet waiting to tap into this condition? Swiss and French researchers recently decided to try and answer that question by experimenting on college students and the public.

First, they evaluated whether their test subjects would detect patterns in truly random coin flips and doctored ones, with and without priming them. Then, they would ask political questions to measure the degree of conspiratorial thinking and level of belief in popular theories such as the notion that the Moon landing was faked or 9/11 was an inside job of some sort. Obviously, they found that they more conspiratorial view of politics the subjects took, they more likely they were to be Moon hoaxers and 9/11 Truthers, but paradoxically, that had absolutely no reflection on if they claimed to see human interference in random patterns of coin flips or identify sequences a researcher manipulated, priming or no priming. In other words, in everyday, low level tasks, the mind of a conspiracy theorist doesn’t see more patterns in randomness. As the researchers put it themselves, for a group of people who like to say that nothing happens by accident, they sure don’t think twice if something apolitical and mundane has been randomly arranged.

What does this finding mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, for one it means that there’s really no one type of person just wired for conspiratorial thinking or whose brain wiring plays an important role in ascribing to conspiracy theories. Instead, it’s more likely that all these theories are extreme manifestations of certain political beliefs or personal fears and dislikes, so the best predictor of being part of the tinfoil crowd is political affiliation. It’s not too terribly surprising if we consider that most climate change denialists who fear some sort of implementation of a sinister version of Agenda 21 they imagined exists are on the far right, while those terrified of anything involving global vaccination or commercial agreements are on the far left. And while there are a few popular conspiracy theories that overlap because people are complex and can hold many, many views even if they are contradictory, you can separate most of the common theories into ones favored by conservatives and ones favored by liberals. And as for what biology is involved in that, well, that’s been a minefield of controversy and statistical maelstroms for a long time…

desert road

Just in case you’ve been taking a year-long vacation from the news, the state of California is as dry as the bleached bone in a Western’s foreshadowing of a long, slow death in the desert. The last time it rained in LA was almost three months ago. The time before that? Sometime in April, maybe? Coming from the often rainy, lousy with thunderstorms Central Ohio, rain is an exciting event now. This is especially true as the Sierra Nevada snowpack is the lowest it’s been in 500 years and the drought is the worst in over 1,200 years. Of course looking at what’s going on all over the American Southwest and in Alaska, where native towns are being flooded a little more every year and the permafrost is starting to thaw, you could point to global warming. With much of the last decade and a half breaking records for warmest year ever and the hottest summer in recorded history just coming to a close, it seems like a reasonable conclusion. But if that’s really just too establishment for you, you can join the Alex Jones crowd in blaming chemtrails and the shady government agencies behind it diverting rain from the Southwest to do… something.

Unlike the right wing’s favorite conspiracy theory that global warming in a hoax to impose some sort of communist New World Order led by the UN, the idea that the government is in charge of weather lacks even the smallest kernel of plausibility behind it. It’s one of those rare ideas that’s not even wrong because it’s based on a profound lack of understanding of basic physics. Cloud seeding is a real thing and it’s been tried. But it’s effect is the exact opposite of what Jones and his acolytes have been claiming. It actually induces rain from clouds that just need a push to let loose with a torrent of precipitation and has been employed in experiments to try and divert the paths of hurricanes and increase rainfall for crop irrigation. Its track record is very uneven, it’s a very debatable notion that it has any measurable effect and every paper arguing that it could do all sorts of amazing things has so far been proven wrong in the real world. Weather systems on our planet are just far too energetic for a little dusting of silver compounds to dramatically affect them, and way too turbulent to be predictable enough for real geoengineering applications.

Even more importantly, chemtrails, a bugaboo of conspiracy theorists who don’t know how very simple water vapor forms contrails in the wake of jet engines, are completely unusable for cloud seeding. As mentioned before, silver compounds is what researchers would use and seeding is not going to produce any sort of wispy contrail. In fact, it would be invisible to your naked eye. If you want clouds to accept foreign materials, you have to release a very fine mist of them so the wind keeps them aloft and lets them mix into the cloud. Jets of them would simply dissipate into a kind of snow scattered by the winds, and eventually fall back to Earth as pollution. And it gets even worse when HAARP gets dragged into the picture. How exactly a nuclear launch detector and sensor array meant to study the ionosphere changes the weather has never actually been explained, but just like Yosemite Sam, they don’t know how it’s done it but they know it’s done it and nothing is going to convince them otherwise. It looks weird and most of what it does is held to be classified, therefore, it’s fair game to be and do anything in a pet conspiracy theory.

Adding the final cherry on top of this insipid mess are the many contradictory motives for those nefarious powers that be to do any sort of weather manipulation. In one breath they’re trying to control the planet’s resources under a military junta, in another they’re trying to slow down and reverse global warming, in a third they’re following some sort of master plan only they have full access to but it apparently involves seemingly random droughts and storms. Why, why, oh why, in the name of Cthulhu’s mouth tentacle polish, must the concept of pumping trillions of tons of greenhouse gases warming the atmosphere and exacerbating climate extremes by altering our typical weather patterns be met with cries of malevolent government weather manipulation that seem ripped straight out of comic books? Is it so the conspiracy theorists can think they’re plain smarter than everyone else? I know Jones’ and Mike Adams’ motivation in all this, cashing in on another conspiracy since neither haven’t met one with which they weren’t immediately in lust as the cash from advertisers and viewers comes pouring in, but what about those who won’t make even a penny on this hysteria? Why does weather, of all things, get them so worked up?

egyptian wall

Sometimes, you have to go out of your way to look for post material. Sometimes, ideas brew in the back of your head until you have a complete thought that works. And sometimes, the exact blog fodder you didn’t even know you sought until you saw it arrives in your inbox on its own. In the years this blog has been up and running, the number and the frequency of posts while I am actively writing, gave plenty of journalists and PR agents the idea that this is my full time job. It’s not, as should be clear from my short bio, but nevertheless, unsolicited press releases, offers to do interviews, and review copies of books get sent to me on a regular basis. Most of the books in question won’t be blockbusters flying off the shelves at your local bookstore, or on back order from your favorite online retailer, i.e. Amazon, so I seldom mention them. But this one, while not destined for the bestseller list as well, is actually noteworthy in its own, very bizarre way.

Across the ufology and ancient alien theory community, there’s a pervasive idea of human-alien hybrids either living among us, or being with us in the past. When the whole idea was just being distilled into von Daniken’s books, the most popular alternative history of humanity held that we were all of alien origin, engineered to be slaves to an extraterrestrial civilization known to us as the Anunnaki. Compared to other species on this planet, the theorists argued, we were way too smart for our own good and biology alone can’t explain the sudden leap in intelligence. Until the alien part would’ve come up, you could’ve sworn you were reading a creationist tract. But as of late, there’s been a bit of a refinement along the lines of David Icke’s ideas. Humans evolved on their own, just as we were taught in a proper science class. It’s just that some humans had very unconventional families in which mom or dad was an alien from the otherwordly ruling caste. I’d like to think of it as a classic fairy tale but the prince or princess is a lizard from Tau Ceti.

Problem is that the original theory makes more sense than the emerging one because we can’t possibly hybridize with an alien life form, even if we consider the implications of panspermia for some sort of common origin for our species. No matter how closely the organic compounds that gave rise to human and any hypothetical alien life would match, the entire hereditary machinery would depend on the chemistry of their home star system. Even something as basic as DNA on another world could look familiar, but have radically different fundamental elements. Usually, an evolutionary path which took place on the same planet, forking fewer than a million years ago is a requirement for even the idea of successful hybridization, though the degree of success could vary wildly, and most offspring would end up sterile a few thousand generations into it. Should a spacecraft in our far future ever land on a planet around another star where other humans with whom we’d successfully procreate live, a lot of very interesting questions will need answers, but that’s pretty much the only way we could reproduce with any functionally alien species.

But you see, the theorists have thought of that. No matter how radical the differences in DNA or underlying physiology are, a sufficiently advanced civilization could manipulate it to produce the desired effect. We’re already starting to get a good handle on genetic engineering, so shouldn’t star-traversing aliens be even more adept at the technology? And that’s pretty much the vein in which ufologist and cryptozoologist Nick Redfern argues in the aforementioned book, that rare, complex human blood types called Rh negative are the result of Annunaki genetic engineering, and that pregnancies in which the mother is Rh+ and the fetus is Rh- are a telltale sign that the incompatibility isn’t a quirk of biology, but of alien tinkering. He goes even further to attribute the blood group to Rhesus monkeys and posit that by the theory of evolution, an Rh- human would have had to deviate from our normal evolutionary past. After all, how would you possibly argue with the forces of evolution and genetics without denying a century of scientific progress?

Well, you do it by pointing out that pretty much everything underpinning Redfern’s idea is a very drastic oversimplification strapped to the Hyperbole Rocket™, and blasted into space, fueled by a pseudoscientific word salad on its way into orbit. There is nothing so terribly mysterious about the Rh blood group that any deviation from norm could only be alien in origin, the Rh+ and Rh- designation is actually just a flag as to whether the blood cell proteins have something typically known as the D antigen, one of some 50 other antigens in the Rh group. The group was named after the Rhesus monkey because chemical reactions with its blood were used to help scientists study the group and find out how to treat Rh factor incompatibilities during pregnancy. It’s really kind of a misnomer to bring up these monkeys, according to the NIH. To say that about 10% of humanity lacking a single antigen in about 50 during a single test can only come about through alien intervention sounds somewhat absurd in this light. While we’re at it, what about the CCR5 mutation which renders less than 1% of us immune to HIV? Is this proof of aliens as well?

Rather than only being logical that every human should share the same evolved traits, that can only happen through cloning. Should you look hard enough at the 0.5% of the genes making us unique individuals created by sexual reproduction rather than budding or self-fertilization, and a whole lot of differences emerge. For example, those living in the Andes and Himalayas evolved completely different ways to cope with living at extreme altitudes. Native Africans seem to have less in common with each other than with Eurasians, genetically speaking. And one in as many as 8 million children may suffer from progeria, a genetic mutation that accelerates aging. Using the same logic as Redfern, we could point to any rare or peculiar fact in human genes and then claim them to be a side-effect of alien genetic engineering because they’re rare or peculiar. But that would make just as little sense. So should you ever find out that you’re Rh-, don’t worry, an investigation into your genetic lineage won’t uncover a great-to-the-500th-degree-grandma who came to Earth in a flying saucer. Chances are that every ancestor you had was very human.

self-steeping tea

All right, look Newsweek, I get it. You need a catchy title for a throwaway article, ideally one you can tie into recent events bubbling up on search engines to get those sweet, sweet hits. And it’s understandable that once you start off with that headline, you don’t want to disappoint all those readers who came in to read about people who believe that a flyby of Pluto was just a part of a complicated conspiracy. But at the same time, two idiots who can’t even articulate what it is that was actually conspired and why, and seem to have no idea that there are two of them, aren’t a movement by even the most generous stretch of the imagination. No one except them believes that the New Horizons flyby didn’t happen and most of the people who comment on their videos do so to tell them how incredibly scientifically illiterate they are. For example, take this gem…

A man who goes by Crow Trippleseven questioned the initial Pluto images in a YouTube video last week… His argument: How is it that NASA’s images of Pluto, supposedly taken from a only few million miles away, are of poorer quality than those he took of Jupiter with his telescopic camera from 484 million miles away?

Well, let’s see, you have the lack of an adjustable focal length on the space probe to reduce the amount of moving parts and the fact that Jupiter has a diameter of 86,881 miles and comes as close as 365 million miles to us, while Pluto is 3 billion miles away at its closest and is just 1,473 miles across, or 8 times farther away, 58 times smaller, and fainter by a factor of thousands. So Crow expects a far smaller object, much farther away to be seen as clearly as the largest one in our solar system, gets schooled by countless people who actually realize this because they can do basic math and understand middle school optics, and his ignorance of basic science is proof of a conspiracy and comments calling him out on his imbecilic video are actually “death threats” in light of which he must keep his identity secret. But hold on, what is the actual conspiracy he’s trying to expose? Why is NASA staging a flyby of a would people are slightly curious about?

Maybe the truth is that NASA can’t do as much as we’ve been led to believe. It is a hard thing to know. Why does any government lie to its people? While there seems to be no simple answer, it seems to be the way of things. Governments lie and always have.

Ah, that clears it up. No, wait, no it doesn’t. He’s basically saying that he has no idea why there was a staged flyby of Pluto, what anyone had to gain form it, and what was the point of doing it in the first place, but dammit government lie and this must be a lie too. He’s just there to wake up the sheeple to the fact that there are conspiracies everywhere. His supposed counterpart in the movement of two dullards is just as clueless, basically just saying that he has no idea why a space agency would fake a mission but he knows they faked it. He also appears quite sure that the flouride in his local drinking water is poisonous and doesn’t understand that spacecraft can indeed propel themselves through a vacuum on top of re-tweeting pro-precious metal standard economic pamphlets based on what I’d like to call the peek-a-boo theory of economics, i.e. “if a currency isn’t backed by precious metal I can see and touch, it’s not real money.” So in short, he appears to be a somewhat bored rebel looking for a cause rather than for a clue.

However, this pair does teach us an important lesson. While some of us look to space to get an amazing little dose of inspiration and hopefully a glimpse of our future beyond humanity’s small, fragile blue cradle, others look to the heavens to find something else to complain about with the utmost confidence in their own genius, desperate to come across as incisive thinkers who have answers to life’s toughest questions and out-think the average person. These are people with a huge chip on their shoulders, people who want to be appreciated and admired for their feats of intelligence and insights, and whose eggshell-thin egos cannot process the fact that they more often than not end up coming across as the exact opposites of what they wanted to project. I’m sure they think of an article about them in Newsweek as long overdue recognition, while it really just let them humiliate themselves in public while calling them a movement to milk a few hits…

sleeping cell phone

Correlation does not mean causation. While it can certainly hint at causation, without evidence showing it, correlation is either curious or outright irrelevant. We could plot the increase in the number of skyscrapers across the world next to the rise of global obesity cases and claim that skyscrapers cause obesity, but if we can’t explain how a really tall building would trigger weight gain, all we did was draw two upward sloping lines on an arbitrary chart. And the same thing is happening with the good, ol’ boogeyman of cell phone radiation, which is supposedly giving us all brain tumors. So, were you to take Mother Jones’ word for it, there are almost 200 scientists armed with over 2,000 studies showing cell phone usage causes gliomas, or cancerous tumors in the central nervous system. When you follow the links, you will find a small group of scientists and engineers signing vaguely worded letters accusing corporate fat cats, who care nothing for human lives, of killing us for profit with cell phones, wi-fi, and other microwave signals that have been saturating our atmosphere for the last half century.

Here’s the bottom line. While there have been ever so slight, tortured correlations between cell phone use and gliomas, no credible mechanism to explain how cell phones would cause them has ever been shown, and every study that purports to have observed a causative mechanism, sees it only in a sterile lab, watching exposed cells in petri dishes. If every such experiment was truly applicable to the entire human body, we’d have a cure for every known type of cancer, as well as drugs that would let us live well into our fifth century. Cells outside the protective bubble of skin, clothes, blood, and without the influence of countless other processes in our bodies and outside of them are the weakest, most speculative level of evidence one could try to muster in showing that electromagnetic fields could cause cancer. My hypochondriacal friends, the words in vitro and in vivo sound similar, but in practice, the two are very, very different. We find more cases of cancer every year not because we’re mindlessly poisoning ourselves with zero regard for the consequences, but because we’re getting really good at finding it.

Just like in the not too distant past people worried that traveling at the ungodly, indecent, not at all meant for humans speed of 25 miles per hour in a train would cause lifelong damage, we’re now dealing with those who believe that all these newfangled electronics can’t be good for us if they’re invisible and have the term “radiation” in their official description. They’re terribly afraid, but unable to offer a plausible mechanism for harm, they rebut skeptics with histrionics invoking tobacco industry denialism, anti-corporatism, and full blown conspiracy theories, calling those in doubt communication industry and electronics shills. Now, for full disclosure I should note that I work with telephony in a very limited capacity. My work centers around what to do with VoIP or other communications data, but that would be enough for those blowing up the Mother Jones’ comment section for that article to dismiss me as a paid shill. Should I protest and show my big doubts about their ideas, they will conveniently back away form calling me a shill sent to spread propaganda to declaring that I’m just a naive sap doomed to suffer in the near future.

It’s infuriating really. Yes, yes, I get it goddamn it, Big Tobacco lied after science ruled that their product was killing their customers and spent billions trying to improve their public image. But in that case, the scientists demonstrated irrefutable in vivo proof of the crippling effects of nicotine and cigarette tar on lab animals, identifying dozens of chemical culprits and how they damaged healthy tissues to trigger tumor growth. Sleazy lawyers were trying to stem a tsunami of quality studies and cold, hard numbers, not vague speculative ideas about how maybe cigarettes can cause cancer while lab studies on rats and mice failed to turn up anything at all. A preemptive comparison of the two does not suggest the rhetorical sophistication of the person doing such comparisons, but intellectual laziness and utter ignorance of how science actually works, and it serves only to clear the debate of any fact or opinion with which this conspiracy theorist doesn’t agree. It’s a great way to build an echo chamber, but a lousy way to make decisions about the quality and validity of what the media sells you. It is, after all, worried about hits, not facts.

But hold on, why would someone latch into the idea that cell phones and GMOs cause cancer, and there’s some shadowy cabal of evil corporations who want to kill us all either for the benefit of the New World Order or their bank accounts, and refuse to let this notion go like a drowning man who can’t swim clinging to a life raft in the open ocean, with sharks circling under his feet? Consider that you have a 33% chance of having cancer in your lifetime, and our modern, more sedentary lifestyles will hurt your health long before that. We can blame genetics, the fact that getting old sucks and we don’t have a cure for aging, and that there is no perfect way to cheat nature and avoid degenerative diseases completely, that we can only stave them off. Or we can find very human villains who we can overthrow, or at least plot against, responsible for all this as they contemplate killing us for fun and profit with deadly cell phones, toxic food, and poisonous drugs that kill us faster to aid their nefarious goals. We can’t fight nature, but we can fight them, and so we will. Even if they aren’t real, but projections of our fear or mortality and the inability to control our fate into equally fallible collections of humans who sometimes do bad things.

buried skull

When the world momentarily became a better place through bin Laden’s removal from it, there was an instant surge of “deathers,” conspiracy theorists convinced that there was no raid or the whole thing was a sham, weaving a New World Order tale for every possible scenario. Indulged by the media looking for views and bursting comment sections, they went quiet after al Qaeda’s generals themselves confirmed that indeed, their leader was dead and gone. Or, at least, quiet in the public eye. But now there’s a new bin Laden conspiracy theory in town from a legendary investigative reporter who says that the raid in Pakistan was indeed a sham, and instead of the intelligence community tracking down a terrorist mastermind and dispatching special operators to take him out in a daring raid, the CIA and SOCOM was just doing Pakistan’s dirty work while stuffing someone’s wallet to the tune of $25 million. In trying to answer the very real mystery of how Pakistan could allow the most wanted man on earth to set up shop next to their West Point, he ended up with a tall tale that belongs on InfoWars rather than in a real newspaper.

Many technicalities of Hersh’s story have already been picked apart by numerous writers, so I’ll limit myself to solely the showstoppers here. First off is the idea that Pakistan not only knew bin Laden was hiding out next to their top military facility, they put him there under house arrest for future use as a pawn in negotiations with the U.S. about military aid. This actually makes sense because the ISI is the kind of organization that would think that this would be a great idea, but it quickly stops making it when you realize that they would’ve held him for five years. A deal could have been made within months if not weeks because terrorists do not age like fine wine and art. Bin Laden was worth even more when al Qaeda affiliates were raising hell in Iraq and he hadn’t yet become a far off leader writing vague strategy memos. To sit on an asset like this when the Bush Administration would’ve surely paid handsomely for his head would be asinine.

The second problem is the claim that the ISI went along with a greedy informant who waltzed in from the street and asked American diplomats for the bounty on bin Laden’s head. Whether he went rogue or sent by the intelligence agency guarding bin Laden, why would Pakistan follow? Every passionate rebuttal of a Hersh debunking rests on the idea that the ISI wouldn’t give up a man who many Pakistanis actually see as a hero, including some fundamentalist higher ups in the so-called Pakistani deep state, the shadowy cabal of generals, tycoons, and politicians who hold real power in the country. Then why would they help Americans execute a raid? Why allow them to even get close to bin Laden rather than hide him or just discredit the informant? Which one is it? Pakistan wanted to trade bin Laden for cash and guns, or protect him as a hero? The two are mutually exclusive. Did the ISI suddenly decide that after holding on to him through the years of violence and turmoil on their borders and within he just wasn’t worth it?

But changing their mind about bin Laden’s upkeep has to be eliminated as an option due to the third big problem with Hersh’s tale, the idea that Saudi Arabia paid to house him in Pakistan. It’s only a slightly less ridiculous proposition than the idea that it was the Americans who footed the bill because anyone who knows anything about bin Laden is aware that the House of Saud was very interested in having him killed. Suggesting otherwise falls into the “well, Arabs are all more or less the same, right?” category of geopolitical reasoning. Saudis didn’t mind him too much as long as he picked fights with Americans, but they drew the line at attacking their kingdom. All of his Saudi benefactors and friends were actually dealing with him illegally because his citizenship was revoked and his assets frozen after he tried to orchestrate a revolt against the royal family for allowing American bases on Saudi soil. Why would the House of Saud ever pay to imprison someone they wanted dead and blamed for terrorist attacks on hotels and oil refineries?

While it’s true that Saudi Arabia funds terrorists around the world, the fuller, darker story, is that this is how they deal with homegrown homicidal extremists; they simply export them to a distant land, fighting wars that don’t need to be fought funded by countries that don’t want to fight them but know that the minute they stop giving their bloodthirsty maniacs something to do, they’ll be handling a domestic crisis of epic proportions. So why didn’t Pakistan adopt the strategy which would’ve made them look either cunning or completely un-involved and sent bin Laden off into some distant province of Afghanistan to die or get killed if they wanted to get rid of him? It’s so much more likely that there were ISI people aware of his presence, who saw him as a hero and didn’t want him to die, and simply kept their mouths shut, directing suspicious minds to look for him elsewhere. Then, when they woke up one morning to find that a SEAL team killed him, that was the end of that as far as they were concerned. They did their best to protect him, but they lacked the virtually unlimited resources of a superpower with a globe spanning military.

As said before, there are dozens of little details that give us reason to doubt pretty much every other word that Hersh wrote and relying on all anonymous sources makes his story pretty much impossible to verify. If you believe that special operators refer to what they do as “murder” and throw bodies of long sought foes out of choppers for no reason, that the House of Saud won’t just off their enemies, that it somehow benefited either Saudi Arabia or Pakistan to keep the old terrorist alive while his minions wreaked havoc across the region, and that despite photos of an honest to goodness firefight and wreckage at the compound, the SEALs actually just walked in, shot an already almost dead man in a wheelchair to later dump his body mid-flight, and left, you probably won’t agree with a single critique of Hersh’s “expose.” And you’ll likely resort to the oft repeated defense of his writing: “you’re just asking questions about why they did something, not showing that Hersh is wrong!” But actually I am. People can be illogical, but generally, when we come to politics on the world stage, people follow their best interests and all my questions really ask is why none of their players he invokes, other than the U.S., acted in their best interests.

Finally, here’s the most important detail to consider. Hersh had two explosive reports that gave him his legendary reputation, the story on the My Lai massacre, and the investigation into how prisoners were being abused at Abu Grahib. Much of the rest of his journalistic career, though, was spent trying to find a contrarian narrative that would give him a second My Lai bombshell, and he relied on con men, cranks, and dictators with every incentive to lie to him as his primary sources, either regurgitating conspiracy theories, or inventing a new one on the spot when he felt he needed to up the ante. And that’s the sad truth about him. He started as an investigative journalist looking for the truth, then having gotten a taste of success, became a pundit with his expected narrative. Much like Glenn Beck will see a communist conspiracy in everything and in every current event Alex Jones finds the Illuminati, Hersh will keep telling you that America is a bumbling, barely competent empire with outsize ambitions. The truth is that America does use plenty of military and financial muscle to maintain its global hegemony, but every country plays the same game as well. But that truth is messy, too messy for Hersh. He wants a villain, a very big and easy target for our outrage so he can pull in enough attention to justify his fee…

s.o. operator

When you’re in LA, heading into the Valley, you’d likely be following Ventura Blvd. or the 101 for some time until you find the I405, which passes right next to the Sherman Oaks Galleria. There, if at that intersection you were to turn and head south on Sepulveda, just one block down, you’d see the front door to the recording studio of Coast To Coast AM Radio, the beacon of paranoia and conspiracy theories that keep Alex Jones flush with cash, and help listeners indulge in their fantasies of fighting the New World Order or imagining the wicked sex lives of those working to advance it in great detail. Currently, the biggest thing now emanating from it is one of the most boneheaded conspiracy theories to see the light of day: Jade Helm. If you were to listen to the conspiracy’s proponents, the puppet masters secretly pulling the world’s strings are staging an exercise on imposing martial law on the United States. After announcing this exercise for public awareness and releasing maps of where the exercises will be held instead of, you know, going out there and just imposing said martial order, or even practicing in complete secrecy.

Remember the mission to kill Osama bin Laden and how no one knew it will happen until there was an announcement in the news that the mission was carried out? Even the soldiers whose days were spent practicing for it had to guess who they were going after until the last minute. If you believe the “deathers” that there was either no such as bin Laden or that he was just a CIA operative, even then the announcement seemed like it came out of nowhere. This is why huge, sensitive military operations are classified. You need an element of surprise. Why is the military broadcasting its takeover of the Southwest when it could just do it within a few days? It has just about all the assets it needs already in place. Likewise, martial law is really only necessary in a situation when you fear massive anti-government unrest, which unlike hyperventilating partisan blowhards and Chicken Littles of AM radio will tell you, isn’t exactly brewing in the U.S. So what would be the point of forcibly pacifying an already peaceful, friendly population?

But despite the complete lack of sense, logic, and reason behind the Jade Helm theory, there’s been an effort by a few token contrarians to somehow justify a kernel of legitimacy to a concern of a government takeover of a population that’s actively participating in said government with no sensible reason not borrowed from conspiracy klaxons. Instead of approaching this conspiracy for what it is, these writers are trying to weave in the specter of police militarization, which while an important and perfectly legitimate concern in its own right is totally inapplicable here. I’m not sure if they’re doing it for the hits, so the right keywords will show up during a search on Google News according to their editors, or because they’re just looking for a transition to their new best read topic, but we end up with with the following exonerations of pathological paranoia

We live at a time when the Pentagon distributes surplus military equipment to small-town police forces; when cops present themselves to the public as soldiers fighting a war; when officials respond to unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore with curfews and … illiberal, heavy-handed tactics. It’s not crazy to complain about militarization. The conspiratorial version of the complaint literalizes it: A genuine shift in how people are policed becomes a plot to impose martial rule.

Notice how the complaints are about the militarization of police and the deafness of judges and courts to local abuses. But the military is not the police. It doesn’t kill people during traffic stops, it doesn’t patrol the streets, it doesn’t handle riots, and its job is to deter and kill the enemies of the country it serves. We can argue how much of Jade Helm should be classified or the level of detail SOCOM should provide about how it spends its cash and trains its operators, but the fact of the matter is that special forces do our most classified and sensitive missions, so if there are any places in the military budget that are opaque by necessity, it has a good case for being one such spot. Talking about what it does too much can give enemy groups insights into tactics and weapons, meaning already difficult operations will become even harder to pull off. No, we don’t have to trust the government about everything it says, but we should at least think through what we distrust most and pick reasonable objections to reasonable issues, not just scream that the sky is falling when Alex Jones and his ilk need a boost in viewership and cash flow.

coffee owl

Mornings are awful. Always have been, always will be, rousing you out of bed, interrupting your sleep in unhealthy ways, rushing you to work at ungodly hours during which you must navigate e-mails and other minutia while your mind shakes itself awake to do real tasks. Unless, you do what most people around you do and reach for the nearest legal stimulant to brush off all those early morning cobwebs. I’m talking about coffee, one of the most frequently consumed drugs in the world, bringing in over $30 billion in revenues from the 2.25 billion cups of coffee drank by people around the world each day, and supporting a network employing over 25 million. And as with every drug, there’s a natural dependency. Forgoing it means anxiety, shakes, cold sweats, headaches, irritability, fatigue, and a general foggy haze in which you struggle to operate. It’s a much less intense version of pretty much any other kind of “dope sick” addicts get when they’re unable to secure their fix. Yet, it’s sold openly, to anyone and everyone, at a profit.

What does that have to do with mornings though? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Think for just a moment why you have to go to work so early, especially when you’re not in the logistics, travel, or maintenance business where one could make the case for early mornings or working through the night. Why do you have to be in the office by 8 am or 9 am along with everyone? If you need your coffee fix to no longer feel like a zombie, that’s why. Mornings were invented for one, simple reason. To get you addicted to coffee. Industry shills known as “morning people,” a code obviously denoting the fiction of someone actually enjoying being forcibly woken up at the separation of the gluteal muscles of dawn, have convinced much of the developed world to set work schedules in a way that will maximize their boss’ ability to get you hooked on coffee, then encourage you to be stuck in a never-ending cycle of sleep deprivation to keep you coming for another fix, day in, day out, even when you can sleep in and don’t have to work.

And Big Coffee and its members like Starbucks, Petes, and Coffee Bean, are not the only ones making a profit off your addiction. They’ve allied themselves with Big Ag’s breakfast industry to sell you cereals, granola bars, yogurt, and other “breakfast food” as it’s denoted. Of course it’s not all there is to it. You see, many fast food chains and coffee stores sell breakfast foods that are highly caloric, containing significant amounts of saturated fat and sugar, which coupled with the sedentary lifestyle enforced by many workplaces often leads to weight gain, and that weight gain interferes with sleeping patterns that make people less tired. Basically, we’re looking at an elaborate, vicious cycle of addiction for corporate profit. We need to wake up to the injustice of mornings and petition Big Coffee to stop pushing companies to open early, as well as removing the addictive chemical caffeine from the vast majority of their offerings still containing it in doses as high as 436 grams. I will be putting together an official letter writing campaign and a petition calling for the end of our forced caffeine addiction on Change.org in the next few days.

Likewise, yours truly isn’t sitting back and just counting on these corrupt corporate behemoths, many with the same market caps and annual profits as Monsanto to roll over, and is in the final stages of a partnership with several vendors to offer a new, natural energy drink alternative for those who must start their day early. If we can’t hit Big Coffee in the media, we need to hit it in the only place it really cares about: the wallet. You wouldn’t be just buying an energy drink that helps you stay alert and awake, you’d be giving these corporate drug pushers the finger to say loudly and proudly that you don’t need their damn coffee and “breakfast food,” you can see all their tricks from a mile away, and you’re smarter than to just let them ensnare you. Even better, should you have any of those “reward cards” that encourage you to be a good little addict and come back for a discount on your next fix, why not make a video of you cutting such a card, or creatively destroying it in some pother way, upload it, then link to it in your entry in the petition when it will be up and running? I’m ready to take on mornings. Who’s with me?